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Audemars Piguet CEO says watch retailers do not need stores

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Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias is planning for a “dematerialization” of retail where you do not need four walls to sell a watch.

This year’s Covid crisis has prompted Mr Bennahmias to completely rethink how watches and other luxury items and experiences are sold and come after he revealed that 40 of AP’s [Re]Master01 were bought during the global lock down.

At $53,100 each, that totals over $2.1 million for a boutique-only watch sold while all its boutiques were closed.

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Neither Audemars Piguet nor its authorized dealers sell its watches online, so these [Re]Master01 deals will have been secured by reaching out directly to customers through phone calls, messaging and social media. The watches might then have been collected in stores, but more likely were delivered directly to customers at their homes.

Mr Bennahmias is convinced that some of the behavioral changes among consumers during lock down will be permanent, and is looking at how AP can adapt to the new normal.

Buying watches without ever needing to come into a traditional store is going to become commonplace, he predicts in an interview with Brian Govberg, director at pre-owned watch specialist WatchBox.

“We are going to call this dematerialisation of retail. I don’t need four walls to sell you a watch tomorrow,” he suggests.

Mr Bennahmias would not expand on what this would mean in practice for the brand’s own boutiques or those run by franchise partners including London Jewelers, Material Good and The Watches of Switzerland Group.

However, he does suggest that completely new thinking is required, not just a shift towards ecommerce.

“When you talk about luxury, you want to be touched in the part of your brain where emotions are triggered. Emotions could be for a watch, a piece of art, shoes, a handbag; anything. Emotions are between people. The computer will not give you an emotion,” Mr Bennahmias says.

“What we are looking at now is what we can do tomorrow to trigger emotional responses a lot better. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a matter of being on top of our clients all the time, day and night. Luxury is like dancing. If you get too close, you step on each other’s feet. We have to relearn the notion of interacting with clients,” he adds.

Audemars Piguet is looking outside the luxury watch industry for inspiration and aims to avoid the Swiss group think that has held back innovation.

“Maybe in our industry the future is not looking to hire people that have been working in our industry for the past 10-20 years, but to look completely outside towards the world of hospitality. The next people we hire might come from the hotel or restaurant industry; we will see,” he concludes.

3 Comments

  1. An excellent article from Watch Pro, reporting how François-Henry Bennahmias has pulled back the curtain to give us a glimpse into what the future of retail may hold, saying he is planning for a “dematerialization” of retail where you do not need four walls to sell a watch.

    While he rightly mentions that traditional Swiss group think has held back innovation on how watches are distributed, he must not have made it from Le Brassus to Neuchâtel, where a year ago native Thomas Baillod ingeniously disrupted traditional distribution and rid of the need for a physical store with his alfuendor concept, which concurrently birthed the BA111OD brand, which can only be obtained through recommendation of someone already ordained as an afluendor (Ambassador + inFLUENcer + venDOR). The results have been very encouraging! We respectfully invite Mr. Bennahmias to be in touch to discuss what we’ve done!

  2. Just wonder if they offer a 7-day no-question-asked return policy? Hey, but it must be quite nerve-racking for both parties for a 50K & above watch!
    But that is just a side concern. Above all, luxurity would lose it’s essence without true person to person interactions. You may say there are p2p contact in the cyber space, but one should understand that it’s not the real thing or there’s no way it can compare with the real experience.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder